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Annoying storytelling device


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17 replies to this topic

#1 of 18 OFFLINE   Holadem

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Posted September 05 2006 - 06:33 AM

The type which has the narrative begins with a cliffhanger toward the chronological end of the story, followed by a "XX hours/weeks/months/years ago" title card, from which the story then proceeds. It is a cheap, overused attempt to create suspense, and in my case, almost never works. I suppose the goal is to make one wonder through the episode how the typically odd and precarious situation came to be. Well, more often than not, this viewer finds himself unable to enjoy the episode because he is waiting for the critical scene's return and resolution, rather than sitting back and watching the story unfold.

When screening a show on DVD, I am almost always tempted to forward to the end of the episode to see the resolution of the cliffhanger, skipping the "build up" altogether (latest instance being a couple of episodes towards Season 2 of Battlestar Galactica).

Does anyone actually like this stuff?

#2 of 18 OFFLINE   TheLongshot

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Posted September 05 2006 - 07:18 AM

Occasionally, it can work. For example, Firefly's "Trash" makes it for a humorous start to the episode.

But mostly, it looks like something that is used to punch up the beginning of an episode. If something starts up slowly, it is there to throw people in the middle of things.

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#3 of 18 OFFLINE   Greg_S_H

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Posted September 05 2006 - 07:39 AM

It was used on Prison Break last night, and often on Alias. I don't mind it. Maybe it'd be improved if each instance was accompanied by Darren McGavin as the Old Man saying, "What brought you to this lowly state?" and then flashing back to the start of the story.

#4 of 18 OFFLINE   Mary_P

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Posted September 05 2006 - 08:52 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by TheLongshot
Occasionally, it can work. For example, Firefly's "Trash" makes it for a humorous start to the episode.
Ooh, yes, great example. That opening would definitely get me to come back after the first commercial break to find out "how in the world did we get here?" Seems to me "The West Wing" has used that device to good effect as well -- but not overused it. I think it'd annoy me if it were used every week, but as an occasional thing, I don't mind it at all.

Count me amongst those who like a little unusual, non-linear storytelling. I loved "Boomtown" before NBC started messing around with it. Once the multiple points of view method of storytelling -- with each of them having different bits of information about the same scene -- was gone, it was just another cop show, although still better than a lot of what gets on the air.

Although not exactly non-linear, I also loved the "Three Stories" episode from the first season of "House, MD." The stories were linear taken individually, but woven together in a truly unique way. IMO, the Emmy David Shore picked up for that script was possibly the most-deserved in the National Television Academy's history.

So, in answer to the OP's question, yes, there are some of us out there who like this stuff.

#5 of 18 OFFLINE   LarryDavenport

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Posted September 05 2006 - 09:11 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Holadem
The type which has the narrative begins with a cliffhanger toward the chronological end of the story, followed by a "XX hours/weeks/months/years ago" title card, from which the story then proceeds. It is a cheap, overused attempt to create suspense, and in my case, almost never works. I suppose the goal is to make one wonder through the episode how the typically odd and precarious situation came to be. Well, more often than not, this viewer finds himself unable to enjoy the episode because he is waiting for the critical scene's return and resolution, rather than sitting back and watching the story unfold.

When screening a show on DVD, I am almost always tempted to forward to the end of the episode to see the resolution of the cliffhanger, skipping the "build up" altogether (latest instance being a couple of episodes towards Season 2 of Battlestar Galactica).

Does anyone actually like this stuff?

That reminds me of when I was a kid and I would skim through the last chapter of Stephen King's books to see who was still alive so I wouldn't get too scared.

#6 of 18 OFFLINE   Linda Thompson

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Posted September 05 2006 - 03:22 PM

Probably my absolute favorite use of this technique was in the 2-part WINGS episode "Joe Blows".

It starts out with an underwater-looking-up shot of fully-clothed Joe, floating face-down (and seemingly lifeless) in a pool, accompanied by a sultry sax score. Then you hear a voiceover (Joe -- in that ultra-serious, no-nonsense film-noir style): "If anyone had ever told me I'd end up like this, I would have thought they were crazy, but, here I am. I wonder what people will say when they...hear the news. Maybe they'll think this was the coward's way out. All I know is, after a lifetime of playing it safe, I felt like there was no other choice. But, wait...I'm getting ahead of myself." By this time, the camera angle has switched to an overhead shot, looking down on Joe's back as he floats in the pool.

Then, a dissolve to a scene at the airport, beginning the story of the chain of events which ended up with Joe face down in the pool.

In this instance, the use of the technique is VERY effective. It immediately grabs the viewer's attention and interest, and arouses their curiosity. And, that particular framework is unquestionably the best way for this particular episode to be presented, IMO. The whole emotional punchline would be much less effective if presented linearly.

#7 of 18 OFFLINE   Greg_S_H

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Posted September 05 2006 - 03:24 PM

It sounds like that was a Sunset Blvd. parody or homage.

#8 of 18 OFFLINE   Holadem

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Posted September 05 2006 - 03:33 PM

Definitely.

Now that I think about it, I don't mind it in films so much. Sunset Blvd, Fight Club, MI:III come to mind.

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#9 of 18 OFFLINE   Kevin Hewell

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Posted September 06 2006 - 08:02 AM

Quote:
When screening a show on DVD, I am almost always tempted to forward to the end of the episode to see the resolution of the cliffhanger, skipping the "build up" altogether (latest instance being a couple of episodes towards Season 2 of Battlestar Galactica).

Holadem, I think BSG is one of the shows that actually gets this right.

Edited for making a stupid mistake.

#10 of 18 OFFLINE   PaulHeroy

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Posted September 06 2006 - 08:23 AM

I agree that this device has become way overused. The thing is, as several people have given examples of, when done well it can be a really interesting and fun hook into a story. But it's become a template now, and used so much that the impact has really gotten watered down. It's similar to time travel and some other devices in that regard - when done correctly it's great, but it's overused in a lame way so often that it gives the technique a bad name.

#11 of 18 OFFLINE   MatthewLouwrens

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Posted September 06 2006 - 01:13 PM

Quote:
Now that I think about it, I don't mind it in films so much. Sunset Blvd, Fight Club, MI:III come to mind.
Where I did not like its use in M:I:III. I was too aware that it was JJ Abrams using the same device he uses a lot on Alias, and because it was something that the old show would not have done, it did not feel like an MI opening scene. Just thinking about it now, perhaps a better opening would have been to show Keri Russell's capture. Would have delayed Cruise's introduction, but that's not a real problem.

Now, in the other two examples you quote, the device absolutely works. The pool scene in Sunset Blvd lends a nice air of foreboding to the story because we know right from the start that the main character is going to die. And Fight Club's opening is so completely "What the Hell is going on" that it works absolutely (and also gives rise to the hilarious "flashback humour" line).
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#12 of 18 OFFLINE   Joseph DeMartino

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Posted September 06 2006 - 03:23 PM

Memento is an extended exercise in this, or something like it. Posted Image The Usual Suspects is another example. Roger Zelazny wrote an entire novel, Doorways in the Sand, where each chapter opened with the hero in some unpleasant situation, then flashed back to the end of the previous chapter to pick up the story and move forward. (Doorways is basically a comedy, so this was a lot less annoying than it sounds. My favorite opening finds Fred, our hero, held aloft in the tentacles of a horrifying alien as the last three days of his life pass before his eyes. "Just the last three days. I was all caught up on the rest of my life from the last time I'd been about to die.")

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#13 of 18 OFFLINE   Yee-Ming

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Posted September 06 2006 - 03:39 PM

I have no problem with this either. Sometimes the journey is indeed as intriguing as the destination.

NCIS now sort-of does a per-act version of this, starting by flashing a black-and-white still of the very last shot of each act right at the beginning. It does seem a little gimmicky at times, especially since it is almost literally a freeze-frame and therefore there is almost no context at all to it. But it can be interesting at times too, especially the one for the opening teaser, which inevitably is a shot of a dead body, or worse, body parts -- one episode I think literally started with a shot of two eyeballs...

#14 of 18 OFFLINE   MatthewLouwrens

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Posted September 07 2006 - 01:08 PM

Quote:
My favorite opening finds Fred, our hero, held aloft in the tentacles of a horrifying alien as the last three days of his life pass before his eyes. "Just the last three days. I was all caught up on the rest of my life from the last time I'd been about to die.")
HA! I must try and find that book.
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#15 of 18 OFFLINE   Holadem

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Posted September 08 2006 - 12:44 AM

Quote:
NCIS now sort-of does a per-act version of this, starting by flashing a black-and-white still of the very last shot of each act right at the beginning. It does seem a little gimmicky at times, especially since it is almost literally a freeze-frame and therefore there is almost no context at all to it. But it can be interesting at times too, especially the one for the opening teaser, which inevitably is a shot of a dead body, or worse, body parts -- one episode I think literally started with a shot of two eyeballs...
Every episode of Galactica begins with a very rapidly cut montage of scenes from the ep in question. This montage is the second half of the title sequence, and lasts about 10 seconds? I generally skip it for fear of spoilers. Judging the comments on the last finale, it is a wise move.

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#16 of 18 OFFLINE   Raasean Asaad

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Posted September 08 2006 - 01:03 AM

There was that Seinfeld episode that started out at the end and replayed each scne backwards to get to the beginning. I thought that worked very well.
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#17 of 18 OFFLINE   Holadem

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Posted September 08 2006 - 01:12 AM

Just to clarify things, my issue is not with non-linear story-telling in general, just the particular device I described in the OP.

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H

#18 of 18 OFFLINE   Ric Easton

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Posted September 08 2006 - 03:28 AM

Somehow I knew what the "Annoying storytelling device" was going to be before I even clicked on this thread. I agree with others that it is becoming overused, but that also sometimes, it works well.


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